Cynthia Newberry Martin takes time from her writing and from her splendid writing blog Catching Days (one of Powell’s Books “Lit Blogs We Love”) to let NC know what it’s like living in Columbus, Georgia. Catching Days is a fascinating site with links to Cynthia’s own publications, reviews, and an ongoing series of posts in which noted authors describe a typical working day. See the latest, “A Day in the Life of Bruce Machart,” here. Cynthia has been commenting on NC from the very beginning, a generous, helpful presence.
What it’s like living here
From Cynthia Newberry Martin
In Columbus, the seasons change, but they take their sweet time about it. First summer doesn’t want to let go, and then the leaves cling to the trees. Not until late October do the golds, oranges, and reds sprinkle this over-green world with color.
The river and Carson McCullers
The Chattahoochee River, the western border of Columbus, floods the city with the mood that gave rise to Carson McCullers:
I want – I want – I want – was all that she could think about – but just what this real want was she did not know.
And to Ma Rainey:
Thought I’d rest me, I couldn’t hear no news. I’ll soon be there ’cause I got the walking blues.
The words and the blues flow together and join the river. And these days, you gather your want and walk your blues for miles and miles on the Riverwalk, a narrow park that edges the banks of the river. You spend a lazy day beside the water, your thoughts swirling with the current. You see Alabama on the other side, and you imagine the rest of the world out there somewhere. You cross the bridge and look back at Columbus with perspective—not a lot but enough.
Columbus wears its clay-red brick well. The old buildings, only two or three stories high, allow plenty of light to reach the sidewalks and plenty of air to breathe. Downtown streets are divided by a grass median the width of what could have been another lane. Statues hide benches inside. The place of art in the world is valued, as is a good place to rest and watch that world go by. And downtown, the train still chugs through the middle of the street, right in front of the modern eleven-storied Government Center. You hear the whistle and stop to watch. Each time, it’s hard to believe.
Columbus used to be a mill town, but most of the factories now lie in empty disrepair. Living here you become fascinated by the beauty of abandoned buildings, the simplicity of row houses, and the openness of laundry hanging on lines to dry. These images stay with you and recur in your stories.
Friends bring supper when you’re sick—pimento cheese and egg salad, country captain, fried chicken. The people who come to your door care about you too. Dale is your FedEx guy. He gives you a package and shows you a picture of his twin granddaughters, Layla and Dakota. He gives you his cell phone number so if you need to sign for a package, you can call and find out where he is. The UPS guy is a real person as well, knocking on the door to ask if you’re supposed to receive a new printer three days in a row. It’s a long story, you say. He smiles.
Sitting at your desk, you watch deer graze—whole families. The doe, the buck and the fawns. You take a picture, and their white tails flash through the woods. A hawk lands on top of the old wooden swing set where no one plays anymore. But it’s the little fox who wins your heart. He doesn’t know he’s not supposed to play for hours in the middle of the grass right in front of your window, distracting you from the words. You look up from your computer more often, hoping to see him. You watch him learn to sit like a fox is supposed to sit. And then, one day, he doesn’t come out. You miss him. Back to the words.
Your husband is the reason you’re here. Long ago he sweet-talked you into moving to the town where he grew up and where he plans to stay. Your children live in other places now—Texas, Scotland, California. Only one left at home. You’re hoping for the Northeast.
And in Columbus, the unhurried life is the perfect soil for words. Take your time, it says. You have plenty of it. Fall is your favorite season, the harsh heat of summer behind you and nothing but cold mornings and dark, early nights ahead. Bare branches. Fires inside and out.
—Cynthia Newberry Martin
Oh, I like this, Cynthia. I have especially loved the saga of the fox, following his forays into your meadow on your blog. I got a little sad when I heard he didn’t come back–I hope he’s well, watching you now, from the cover of the trees.
Cynthia captures the essence of what hometown can mean to anybody; despair out of what was and the joy one discovers in friendly visitors, fur or skin.
The openness of laundry sounds nice. In Vermont today, ours is shriveled and crusty
Jodi, Very nice to see you here on NC. Have you written a rondeau for the contest yet? 🙂
My pleasure. I have enjoyed the silent “voyeur” role to date. Perhaps I will muster up a few bold words in the near future. Thanks for the friendly welcome.
Great writing, images of where you live! It really makes me think about how I’d write a “what it’s like to live here” post…makes me think about telling stories about this place.
Another lovely piece by a favorite scribe. Not only does Cynthia write beautifully, she is generous and kind. She never stops learning or sharing new-found knowledge with friends.
Robin, thanks for that image of the little fox watching me. Diane, nice to hear from you. And Jodi, we had frost on the rooftops this morning. Cherry, I would love to read a post like this about where you live–actually about where each of you lives. Darrelyn, I appreciate your kind words and good luck in Oxford! Thanks to all of you for taking the time to read and to leave a comment.
If dg keeps the blog going, the plan is to get a What it’s like living here from everyone who participates on NC. It’s an ongoing infinite project.
I so love this, Cynthia. I love the foxes, the people, the broken and abandoned promise of the factories. Lovely.
Cynthia, it was nice to place you in your surrounding. I’m envious of your long autumn now that most of our leaves are down in Maine. I love how you worked in literary comments and the fox story. I can understand moving somewhere new for your husband – that’s how I ended up in Maine and England. Luckily I love it.
Frances and Sarah, thanks for your comments. I wish I had a better photo of the little fox. And, yes the leaves are still hanging on…
After I finished reading this ode to Columbus, I swear I could hear Ray Charles singing “Georgia…” (I lived in Columbus for several years in the early 90’s and this was such a lovely reminder of those days.)
Wonderful, thoughtful piece, Cynthia. I’ve only been to Columbus once, and the Chattahoochee River was actually where I spent most of my time, on and then unfortunately in it. I ended my fledgling stint as a coxswain for the Murray State University crew team when I ran our shell into a barge. That thing has some swift current!
Jeanette, wouldn’t Ray Charles be a nice accompaniment? John, by 2012, we’re going to have white water rafting, so come on back.
Very nice, and I must confess I got a little homesick. I have fond memories of brief stays in many small Southern towns.
Thanks for reading, Gary, and for letting me know you were here.
I’m a wanderlust by heart and enjoy reading about places I’ve never been. The travel channel is my favorite, and when I was very young, I used to order travel brochures out of the back of magazines just to look at the pictures and read the descriptions. Clearly I was not a normal child who evolved into an equally peculiar adult. Suffice to say, I love love love reading about where you live, Cynthia.
Really nice portrait of your place, Cynthia! I enjoyed reading about it.
Tricia, nice to see you here. Anna Maria, see you soon! Thank you both for reading and leaving a comment.
I hope you see the little fox again.
Ah, Columbus. Georgia is often on my mind.
Thanks for leaving comments, Jenna and Gwen! It was fun being in Vermont together.